VERZUZ is not just an event, it's an energy that is unmistakable. Following Fat Joe and Ja Rule's sonic slugfest at The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, legendary hitmaker Jermaine Dupri took to his personal Instagram account to challenge Sean "Diddy" Combs to a VERZUZ competition that could change lives more than entertain.
Since its humble beginnings in spring 2020, Verzuz stretched from the personable intimacy of Instagram Live-only battles and the shackles of inconsistent Wi-Fi connections into in-person celebrations, before finally arriving at what always felt was the end goal of sorts: live concerts. The music industry had already touted the so-called "VERZUZ effect" to describe artists' boosted streams after participating in the event. Along with the change came a reminder of how the electricity of a crowd could re-energize a career, a fact the pandemic erased from our minds with every Zoom chat and pre-taped live stream concert. It also made it clear the potential of taking a platform rooted in the intermixing of artists through songs and manifesting that into a concert. Jadakiss felt the re-energizing effects, with the popularity of him performing his deep cut "Who Shot Ya" freestyle being aided by the crowd's awestruck responses so much Def Jam released the live audio as a single to streaming services 11 years after the song appeared on Jadakiss's The Champ Is Here 3 mixtape. That doesn't happen if his "he's a dick, you pussy, y'all neighbors" declaration was met with the silence of a studio audience.
Last night's VERZUZ between Ja Rule and Ashanti showed its potential as the ultimate surprise guest event. Artists like Lil Mo and Vita may not have either the catalog or popularity to be standalone VERZUZ competitors, but you would've thought they were the biggest artists on the stage with the deafening reaction from the audience at The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden when Ja Rule's catalog slaughter presented the classic rap ballad "Put It On Me." VERZUZ has always been a celebration of not just the artists dueling but the collaborative nature of great music where the forgotten can be celebrated for contributing to the unforgettable.
Even with the viral moments of The Lox vs Dipset and the stream of surprise guests for Fat Joe vs Ja Rule, Diddy vs Jermaine Dupri would be culture-shifting. Up until now, the in-person VERZUZ events have been between artists, a smart move to ensure the crowd gets live performances instead of simply listening to records. Producers at heart, the most indelible music Diddy and Dupri are attached to are either other people's songs they've produced or collaborations. This guarantees if we see Diddy vs Jermaine Dupri on a VERZUZ IG post, what we're really seeing is a festival-sized artist lineup. Diddy's too much of a showman to just let a DJ play Lil Kim's "No Time" while he dances around shouting ad-libs alone. And even if a crowd of people singing Tamia's "Still" would send chills down any living human's body, there's no way the man who brought out Jay-Z at his So So Def 20th anniversary concert wouldn't bring out the six-time Grammy nominated singer-songwriter. The vastness of their respective empires, which span three decades each, encompasses a myriad of legacies and lives the VERZUZ stage can help.
No matter if you're a legend of 30 years or a young OG of the millennials, nearly every artist who appeared on VERZUZ has benefitted from "the VERZUZ Effect." The Verzuz Effect pertains to the boost in streams, sales, and overall visibility artists that experience following a VERZUZ event. Teddy Riley and Babyfaced already had legacies cemented by the time the internet was something you had sent to you in the mail as an American Online CD. Still, following their rescheduled VERZUZ, the two played 49 total songs whose combined on-demand streams rose by 115% days after. Apple Music global creative director Larry Jackson went as far as to say the Riley/Babyface VERZUZ was twice as big on social media as the Global Citizen's Festival which streamed on the same night.
Diddy's former artist G. Dep has been serving time in prison since he surprisingly walked into a police station in 2012 to confess to a 1993 shooting in an effort to clear his conscience. A VERZUZ performance of his biggest record, "Special Delivery," with an artist taking his place, could generate streaming revenue that could really help Dep's family on the outside of those prison bars. The same could be said for the family of Kriss Kross member Chris Kelly, who died of a drug overdose in 2013. Dupri honoring the group he groomed into '90s teen stardom with a stirring performance of "Jump" featuring surviving Kriss Kross member Chris Smith would keep Kelly's name alive.
Outside of increasing streams, a lesser discussed aspect of the VERZUZ Effect is its peacemaking. One of the most popular VERZUZ events was Gucci Mane and Jeezy's heated competition in November. Prior to the event, Jeezy and Gucci were locked in a 15-year long beef consisting of slanderous diss tracks, death threats and Gucci actually killing Jeezy's friend Pookie Loc. During the VERZUZ, Jeezy intimated the reconciliation was due to each artist recognizing their bigger importance to the hip-hop culture outside of a feud. Both had projects releasing at midnight after the VERZUZ but if there wasn't a platform viewed as a cultural tastemaker and gatekeeper of sorts as VERZUZ is, it's hard to say if simply having projects out at the same time could've inspired a historic truce.
This is where Dupri/Diddy VERZUZ could help rewrite the hip-hop history books. Months before any VERZUZ occurred Ma$e, Diddy's most successful rap artist outside of Notorious B.I.G., claimed the Bad Boy Records founder paid the Harlem rapper $20,000 for ownership of his publishing, which he's allegedly owned for the last 24 years. These two have had disagreements in the past, but it appeared that was behind them when Ma$e joined Diddy on the Bad Boy Reunion Tour in 2016. If the cultural capital of VERZUZ could help squash a hip-hop beef centered around a murder, Diddy should seize the moment as an opportunity to remove this blemish from his legacy. And would open the door for Ma$e to have his charisma and magnetic lyricism exposed to millions similar to Jadakiss.
Diddy dismissed the challenge under the haughty stance Dupri's catalogue doesn't match up with his. But, if he wants to right some of his wrongs and usher in his LOVE era with more than just an upcoming album, he'll make it happen.